A Lifelong Quest For Hot Promo Records: An Interview With Techno Demigod Boys Noize
When you hear a Boys Noize track, you can’t help but picture a huge arena packed with kids losing their minds. He’s the soundtrack to a hedonistic end of the world party, a monument of the big techno sound forged in the rave days of the 90s, now a part of any kid’s musical diet alongside pop music and southern rap. Since his 2007 album Oi Oi Oi, Boys Noize, real name Alexander Ridha, has built a solid foundation of tracks and remixes, re-imagining everything from Depeche Mode to Black Eyed Peas, and earning him the clout to put forth his own original vision of what club music should sound like.
A minimix from Boys Noize’s 2011 remix album
The question on my mind, as I sat waiting for him in a weirdly shaped chair in the lobby of the Standard Hotel in New York, was, how does one become a dance music demigod? How do the masses determine a favorite? And what does it take to win them over? The assumption is that, the harder and faster your beats are, the more juiced the crowd gets, the more they love you. It’s a formula, if you want to treat it that way. But upon meeting Ridha, I gathered a more record-junkie vibe from him than someone simply trying to sell his music to a crowd.
This was by no means a douchy club kid who had hit it big. This was a guy who would likely be making the same stuff and belting it out with the same intensity even if he wasn’t taking the stage in front of mobs. He’d be just as happy still working at a tiny record store in Hamburg, getting hyped for the new Tuesday singles to come out, being a warm-up act and just collecting records.
“When you get paid for being a warm-up DJ, you get paid 50 bucks, or 150 maximum, but for me, that was the bomb. I was spending literally thousands a month, in Euros, on vinyl because I had two jobs—in a record shop and as a cleaning boy—and I just did it to buy the vinyl, so I was really happy about the money coming in. For me, that was the only goal: to get back the money I was spending every month on vinyl. That’s the bomb”
Photo: Bjorn Jonas
Crate-diggers will be familiar with his obsession. There’s nothing quite like getting your hands on the newest stuff before it even comes out. Showing another classic nerd tendency, Ridha loved the esoteric nature of his interest.
“I was the only one doing it in my whole group of friends, in school, and I always feel very comfortable having something that no one else has, and doing something that no one else is doing, and listening to music no one else is listening to. At that time, when you’re 15—I was buying house records when I was 14, 15, 16—and at that time, half of my friends are gangsters, and they think like, that is some lame shit.”
Boys Noize’s newest single, “XTC”
But it was the “lame shit” that ended up earning him a reputation. Again, this clout didn’t arise from music he played under the spinning lights of a club, but rather in the sanctity of his own record collection. It was the first time Ridha considered doing something entrepreneurial rather than just justifying his vinyl purchases.
“At one point, I was thinking—which was super-naïve at that point—‘OK, I’m gonna do mixtapes and try to sell them at the record shop.’ Of course, no one bought them—except one guy, ‘cause we were doing mail order as well, so another guy from Berlin would call, I’d get on the phone and play him records through the phone, and he would order. I was like, ‘Hey, I have this mixtape, you wanna buy it?’
Ridha by no means made a killing selling mixtapes, but this one sales pitch over the phone went his way. The guy bought the mixtape, loved it, and immediately booked him for a performance. With a crate of records weighing down his 17-year-old arms, he hopped a train to Berlin and rocked his first warm-up set at a club called Kalkscheune. It didn’t matter that he had to go on early, or even that he had to forgo playing some of his favorites because he had to save the hot shit for the main DJ. In fact, he relished the warm-up DJ set, and saw it as having a style unto itself.
“What I feel now is that warm-up DJs totally died off. Everyone’s just playing hard right away, and there’s no rule about playing hits and non-hits, and whatever. I really enjoyed it because it’s still funny to see if it’s more difficult to get the crowd, everyone to dance, and to hold it.”
Boys Noize – “What You Want”
From his early time slot, Ridha started to learn what it takes to hold it down during high time when he opened up for electro and house legend Felix da Housecat.
“At that time he was huge, and it was right before he dropped the Kittenz and Thee Glitz album, he played all those promos… banging and powerful sets, and so, when he played, I didn’t play. But he had other records, too, like he was already one step ahead, getting promos from everyone.”
From there on out, Ridha matured with a better sense of the scene, not only collecting, but performing, and perhaps more importantly, creating.
“I had a E-MU sampler, and you had those zip drives, and then you sample—I always sampled the drums from the hip-hop records and 70s and 80s records, and then cut them… I remember there was a revolution as well for production when Logic 5, I think it was, came out with their own sampler. And then suddenly you didn’t need the sampler, which cost like four or five grand. It was useless for some time because you’d keep all your samples in the software files, and then I bought my first ”http://www.vintagesynth.com/roland/808.php" target="_blank">808 drum machine, and once I bought the first drum machine, it was over. I was like, ‘Oh shit, this sounds way better than anything in the world.’"
But really it was just the beginning. Ridha didn’t hustle or grind any further. He just played to his strengths, with a performance foundation in mixing vinyl, a taste background in collecting it, and the sweet, sweet love of an 808 guiding his production. Oi Oi Oi dropped in 2007 to widespread acclaim, followed by Power two years later, punctuated by a slew of high profile remixes. His own success gave him the opportunity to collect promos in a new way—by being the guy who releases them.
Since 2005, his label, Boysnoize Records (BNR), has been dropping house and techno records that meet the standards of Ridha’s taste, by artists like Housemeister, Audionite, and SCNTST—kids who set themselves apart from the ever-increasing homogeneity of dance music. As he’s collected young artists over the past few years, he’s started to notice that these kids are in fact part of a newer school of production than his own. Purists will always argue that something is lost when the old techniques are left behind, but these kids fill the absence of vinyl promos with new methods that have their own merit—traits of what he calls “the Soundcloud generation.”
A remix by Housemeister of BNR
“When using samples, I always think about finding a 70s or 80s record, one loop, you know? But they have a different approach. They’ll sample R. Kelly, or something. And I think that’s cool, and they just use a snippet, and with what you can do now, you won’t hear it ever, and that gives it a totally fresh influence.”
Ridha’s mantra of quality music over hype has somehow maintained throughout his rise, and in the style of music he deals in, it’s hard not to compromise at least a little bit of your style for the sake of getting big. That’s something he never did and never will do, and that’s the same way he keeps his ranks.
“During all the years, there have been many opportunities to try to get bigger or do something with more major stuff, and we really decided to not do that and stay with what we have and try to really stick to why I started the label. I never started the label to make money. I just started the label to put out my own records. That’s the basic idea, and it’s still like this. DJs discover music, and we discover music, and if we like it, we tell a friend. I was never a fan of big promotion or putting something in someone else’s face. I think that’s stupid. And I always thought it’s not necessary to do it.”
Good to know he will be keeping it real.
Ridha’s recently announced his new album Out Of The Black, due out this October.